I need some new metrics to use to measure my progress. The PTA gig has taught me that my Inner Critic has a near limitless capacity to rip me to shreds with whisperings about how I haven’t done enough, what a lazy lout I am to think that I can close my inbox for the day or attend to other areas of my life. I’m drowning in my own outsized expectations. More fundraising! More restructuring of the organization! More community building! More time in the classroom! He mentioned that he would like me to do this and she mentioned that she needs me to do that and all that in addition to the ever-growing list of things I want to accomplish in every area of my life.
Boundaries, yes. I need firmer lines drawn and more of them. But I’ve also been thinking about the difference between measuring my progress based on effort versus output. How much sleep am I willing to lose for this volunteer effort? Little to none. Do outside forces want me to give more than I already am? Always. I’ve had weeks where I thought about and worked at my PTA tasks from the moment I get up, through my kids eating dinner and taking baths and reading stories, through late into the night, and I go to sleep feeling like shit because progress is slow and I still don’t feel like I’m giving enough.
But that’s because my metric for self-measurement has been based on task completion. When I mark things as done, that’s when I feel good… for about 10 minutes and then generally the pressure mounts around the next thing.
I can give more, I can sleep less, I can shut down other areas of my life in order to give more. GIVE MORE MOAR MOOOREEEEE. Or I can decide to adjust my measurement to focus on effort instead of output. How many hours am I willing to give this week? And the next. And the next. If I reach the end of the week and I’ve given the allotted time but there’s still work to be done that means we either need to adjust our expectations re: how much we’re able to accomplish and on what timeline *or* we need more volunteers. (It’s usually, generally, pretty-much always the latter.)
Effort. That’s how I need to measure my progress from now on.
My Jenna Cole photography website is down, has been for several weeks now and I’m struggling to find the motivation to get it back up again. Thanks to our many relocations, and a few course corrections, this will be the 7th time I’ve put myself out there in this way and said “I’m really doing this. I’m making the photography business a priority and I’m going to do the work build it into something more than it is today.”
Last week my cousin asked if would be too much of a bother for me to do family photos for them. Family photos? One of the few things in life that consistently feeds my soul in exactly the way I need and that I would do every weekend if I could? Would that be too much for her to ask???
She wasn’t using the word bother because she wanted me to do it for free, she used it because she didn’t know I’m “doing this” anymore and thought it might be an imposition. She didn’t know I look out my front window on a regular basis and think “I wish I had someone to photograph in this light.” I found this exchange to be a bit embarrassing (no one is going to buy a biz marketing course from me anytime soon), informative, and a little bit inspiring. Even though I have a handful of repeat clients there’s always some voice in my head telling me I’m not being booked because no one except me finds any value in my work (in that case I should just document my life and pursue personal projects, no need to spend all the time building a website from scratch). But that cousin of mine shifted my inner dialog a bit because I have evidence now, for at least one person, that what I’m facing down is in some way as simple as marketing better.
And yet, I’ve drafted no plans and made little efforts. Because I’m embarrassed. Or conflicted. Or confused. A tangle of emotions that can summed up with the question “Is this optimism+persistence or naivete+failure?” At what point are the website rebrands and the marketing blitzes and the promotional offerings a joke everyone is in on except me?
Or is this just what it is? It’s trying, and trying again. It’s Edison and his light bulbs. It’s every children’s book you’ve ever read about kids who try and try and try and then they flew. It’s drowning out the voices, internal and external, that laugh at our efforts and revel in our disappointments.
I’ll forever be a pessimistic pragmatist about the photography industry today. The consumer and smartphones cameras are so good now that the pool of opportunities will forever be reduced. Not as many people need or want what I have to offer. But there is plenty of evidence that there is something there for me if I’m willing to put in the work.
I just have to try. Again.